Talent management: helping SMEs compete

Aug 23 2005 by Print This Article

Nurturing top talent is generally seen as an issue for large organisations. But smaller companies are under just as much pressure to retain and develop their best managers, particularly during periods of business growth.

Unfortunately, these crucial stages of growth often coincide with a company's lowest level of profitability, which is one reason why investment in management development programmes by medium-sized businesses remains a rarity.

It can also be a false economy, as smaller organisations that do invest in their top talent have discovered.

Five years ago Glasgow-based facilities management company Morris and Spottiswood was turning over £20 million per annum. This year management predicts it will reach £110 million; impressive growth achieved during a time of major consolidation within the sector.

With predictions for fewer but larger players in the future, and each one facing greater competition to retain good senior managers, chairman George Morris, a third generation family manager of the business, recognised that developing his managers' skills and getting the company's culture right was key to the future development of the business.

He said: "Talented people have a key role to play in getting our culture and business direction right. We've been through a long process to get the best managers in place and we need to ensure they develop to their fullest potential."

The company interviewed potential training partners at business schools right across the north, before linking up with Durham Business School to run two management development programmes.

The first, the Enterprising Management programme, supports senior managers looking to improve their strategic and operational awareness, while the Professional Development programme is aimed at new managers.

"We recognise the particular pressures facing medium-sized businesses as they grow and reach a point where things can no longer be done in an ad hoc way," said Dr Bill Snaith, a director of programmes at Durham Business School, currently the only one in the UK with a team dedicated to meeting the needs of medium sized enterprises.

"They need an organisational structure with professional people working in key roles, such as finance and marketing. and tailor our programmes accordingly.

"With Morris and Spottiswood, for example, while both programmes are designed to maximise personal development and improvements to the business, we rewrote the strategy module specifically to reflect its precise business needs."

In addition to the new skills and wider perspective acquired by individual managers, the programme has brought additional benefits to the business, by bringing together people from disparate offices and providing them with the opportunity to share ideas.

Morris said: "Forging a team requires that you go down certain paths and perhaps address internal tensions that all businesses have, but some may not want to admit to. The quality of teaching is key in managing this process.

"The type of training we are undertaking is creating a real win-win situation, giving managers a much greater understanding of how they can work with colleagues for the benefit of the business while increasing their skills base."

Operations director James Snodgrass, who worked his way up from a tradesman's role, had always aspired to become a senior manager within the industry, and has completed a number of development programmes to help him achieve his goals.

He said: "The Enterprising Management programme in particular gave me a clearer understanding of my colleagues' roles, and made it easier to link company strategy back to various functions within the business."

Investment in formal training and development programmes can also help to attract and retain senior management talent.

Allan Boyd, who joined Morris and Spottiswood as HR director just before the development programme began, said: "As a new employee I saw the company's investment in such training an extremely positive indication of the company's commitment to expanding its horizons by developing its people."

"It has a tremendous impact on recruitment and retention," adds Bill Snaith.

"Those who attend the programmes take what they have learned back into the workplace, creating a bigger mass of 'professionalised' people who, in turn, become more engaged and motivated."